Difficulties in defining mobile learning: analysis, design characteristics, and implications

  • Michael M. Grant
Development Article


Mobile learning, or m-learning, has become an umbrella term for the integration of mobile computing devices within teaching and learning. In the literature, however, use of the terms has been unsystematic. The purpose of this article is to critically examine the principles of mobile learning. First, I examine the extant literature with regard to defining mobile learning. Four definitions of mobile learning categories are described: (1) relationship to distance education and elearning, (2) exploitation of devices and technologies, (3) mediation with technology, and (4) nomadic nature of learner and learning. Second, in an effort to provide a basis on which to ground future mobile learning research, I propose a framework of design characteristics for mobile learning environments. Seven design characteristics are identified and discussed. Finally, I present implications for future research and instructional design. This paper contributes to the field of mobile learning by providing researchers more precise ways to identify and describe the characteristics of mobile learning environments, as well as describe the attributes of successful mobile learners.


Mobile learning Mobile computing devices Mobile learning environments Instructional design 



I would like to thank the following individuals for their specific help, reviews, edits, and suggestions through previous versions of this manuscript: Robert M. Branch (University of Georgia), Kellah Edens (University of South Carolina), Charles B. Hodges (Georgia Southern University), and Thomas C. Reeves (University of Georgia). In addition, a previous version of this manuscript was presented at the American Educational Research Association.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights

No human subjects were used in this research.


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA

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